Mass resistance by grassroots activists has forced the UCU leadership to reject a rotten deal in the ongoing Higher Education pensions strike.
The proposed sell-out would have cut pensions, kicked negotiations three years down the road, demobilised our action and forced members to reschedule classes for free.
The reaction to the UCU’s proposal (which came after six days of talks with the bosses, Universities UK) was immediate and explosive.
The hashtag #NoCapitulation went viral. Thousands of academics signed an open letter demanding that the strikes continue. Dozens of UCU branches moved motions opposing the ‘compromise’ (most by unanimous votes). And an emergency protest at the UCU headquarters in London drew over 500 people from across the country.
Ulster, Cambridge, Sussex, SOAS, Goldsmiths, Bath, Manchester, Reading, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Warwick, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Newcastle, Keele, Liverpool, Hull, York, LSHTM, Exeter, Stirling, UEA, QMUL, Bristol, Cardiff reject deal #NoCapitulation— Warwick UCU (@WarwickUCU) March 13, 2018
The demonstration sought to put pressure on members of the UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) and branch delegates, who were inside UCU HQ discussing the proposal.
As irate lecturers outside chanted ‘No ifs! No buts! No pension cuts!’, many delegates stopped on their way into the building to assure attendees they would vote to reject the offer. At one point, it looked like the protesters were about to storm the building!
UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, addressed the crowd and gave a mealy-mouthed statement that the negotiators had won “as much as they could”, promising to heed the “democratic will” of the membership. She was met with boos and heckling, with one person shouting: “you are objectively on the side of the employers!”
The anger was equally palpable online. One academic wrote on Facebook: “The deal currently on offer is derisory and downright insulting”.
Another chimed in on Twitter: “I'm devastated reading the UCU/UUK agreement. It will see us back in exactly this position in three years whilst also phenomenally screwing us over with heavy teaching loads.”
Dozens simply tweeted that “Sally Hunt should be sacked!”
Under the pressure of this anger, which seems to have caught union negotiators utterly unawares, both the HEC and branch delegates voted to reject the proposal. This means the strike will continue.
Strength and militancy
This decision is entirely down to rank-and-file UCU members, who beat back this insulting deal. It is a reflection of the radicalism and organisation that grassroots activists have developed over the past few weeks of struggle. They have refused to be sold down the river, and the UCU tops have been forced to concede to their demands.
If anything, this will strengthen lecturers’ resolve going forward. This successful rebellion will have given union members a sense of their own strength. It has certainly shown where the real power lies - with the workers on the ground.
We have seen that true victory will not be hashed out undemocratically between bosses and bureaucrats in a ‘respectable’ negotiation, but through mass pressure from education workers - acting in solidarity with students.
Importantly, the last few days’ events have demonstrated that workers in struggle can only trust in themselves - in their own unity, organisation and militancy.
From here, we should accept nothing less than zero changes to our pension scheme.
But to truly protect the interests of our members, we must turn the lecturers' strike into a public sector strike, the public sector strike into a general strike, and that general strike into a movement for socialism!
- The struggle continues!
- Unite and fight for victory!
- For public-wide action against austerity!